Since “Elvis Is Everywhere” I decided to do some Elvis-related roadside archaeology in Tampa to celebrate my 38th 21st birthday. So I put on my “Old Guys Rule” tee shirt and hit the road.
In the 40’s, Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker / Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk (that’s the Colonel’s real name, but that’s another story for another day) was a dog catcher for the Humane Society in Tampa.
He was a carny even back then, concocting stunts like gathering litters from three or four dogs, put them with one mom, then call the Tampa press with the tale the dog had 21 pups. It was all reported as fact by the Tampa press.
Legend says the ol’ Colonel started what might be the first pet cemetery. Located at the Humane Society in town, he found a monument company in Tampa that would sell cast-off stone pieces to him for $15. He’d mark them up to $100 with the promise of eternal care in the form of old flowers he got for free at a local florist. The stones were dug up and relocated in 2018.
My first stop was the Colonel’s home in the Temple Terrace area of Tampa. His old home is in a nice neighborhood and very well maintained.
After catchin’ dogs, Colonel Tom moved on to music promotion, representing country musician Eddy Arnold for a time. He’d moved to South Tampa, and that house still stands as well. It sold in 2020 for $600k. Built in 1946, the interior has been upgraded over the years and no “Parker-era” touches remain.
Next stop on my tour was Fort Homer Hesterly Arena. Love the architecture of this place. Construction began in the 1930’s and it was dedicated the day after Pearl Harbor.
So many 20th century notables have graced the HH arena. MLK & JFK spoke here. The Ramones, Pink Floyd, James Brown, Buddy Holly, The Doors, Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash and more have played gigs here.
Elvis played multiple gigs over four dates at the Homer Hesterly arena early in his career. He opened for Hank Snow and Deacon Andy Griffith (yep, Sheriff Taylor of Mayberry) in 1955, and headlined twice in 1956.
On July 31, 1955, the arena went down in the Elvis history books for the “tonsil photo” - taken at the gig & used on EP’s first LP.
On August 5, 1956, after playing two shows at Homer Hesterly arena, ol’ EP stopped by Ayers Diner in Tampa, presumably for a fried peanut butter & banana sandwich.
66 years later, the diner still stands. It’s now known as Chanko’s, serving up Asian food. The place has been modernized over the years, but the original floor, bathroom fixtures and diner stools are still there. Best of all, you can eat where Elvis ate, 2nd booth on the left. So I did.
I have no idea what I ordered, but it was two breaded discs that might have been meat. Fried of course, so I think Elvis would agree.
I wrapped up my Elvis birthday with a movie. You guessed it, “Elvis.”